Dr. Nermin Allam
Among the memorable moments of my field trip in Egypt was attending a participatory theatrical play on the issue of female genital mutilation in Fall 2014. The play was among a number of grassroots initiatives launched to celebrate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The initiative is part of a growing wave of women’s activism that emerged following the 2011 uprising. The show narrated the life and daily struggles of Hania, a young middle class Egyptian girl as she confronted harassment and gender discrimination at school and home. The story reached its climax as Hania’s parents decided to circumcise her. The play closed with Hania’s emotional cry as she is pushed to the floor, strangled by her mother and the midwife approaching her with a knife.
“And everything froze,” I wrote in my field notebook, “the silence seemed so loud in the crowded room where over 200 people were watching the play”. The heavy silence continued as the director took the stage asking for the audience’s reactions as well as what they thought Hania should do.
The first to speak was a middle age Sheik. Speaking in a confident voice, he insisted that female genital circumcision is a religious obligation rooted in Islam and dictated in its teachings. Before he could finish his sentence, the majority of the women in the room raised their voices in dismay, shouting that the practice was inhumane. Some women even outright challenged the Sheik’s religious view, insisting that female circumcision is rooted in systems of discrimination, oppression and patriarchy.